Being White and Male (and in Solidarity)
In a time of Rising White (Male) Nationalism
Rus Ervin Funk
“Things are getting worse.” That’s the assessment of friends and colleagues as Mr. Trump identified more of his Cabinet this past week. Not only, so far, are all his selections white men, but many of them either have current or past white nationalist or white supremacist alliances. With his pick of Stephan K Bannon as Chief Strategist & Senior Counselor, Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, and Michael Flynn as top military advisory. With these choices coupled his rhetoric and actions during the campaign, “Trump brings ‘white pride’ out of the shadows” (Richard Spencer, Chairman (sic) of the National Policy Institute).
We’ve also seen an unprecedented rise in hate crimes, violent attacks and bigoted actions since Mr. Trump has been elected, apparently inspired and supported by his statements and actions. So far, all Mr. Trump has been able to do in response was an uninspired “Stop it.” There has been no denouncing of these hate crimes, no concerted effort to actually reach his supporters and discourage these behaviors, and no real effort to quash these actions – in spite of the fact that so many are doing these things in his name.
At the same time, and to no real surprise, many of these white men also express opinions that reinforce male supremacist positions (positions that allow men to brag about being able to grab women’s genitals against their will). Not long after being appointed as Attorney General, Senator Sessions stated that referring to grabbing a woman’s genitals against her will as a sexual assault is a bit of a stretch indicating his utter insensitivity to sexual assault as an issue. As our nations “top cop”, for him to be so completely out of touch to the realities of rape means we can not look to this administration to be supportive of efforts to respond to and prevent rape, sexual assault and other forms of gender based violence.
A part of the argument put forth by white nationalists and male supremacists is that whiteness and masculinity are “under attack. We increasingly hear that white men have lost or (rightful) place in positions of power, authority and dominance. Robert Spencer, Director of the National Policy Institute, recently stated “America was until this past generation a white country designed for ourselves and our posterity,” It is our creation, it is our inheritance, and it belongs to us.” Robert Spencer has been spouting his particular form of hate and white supremacy for quite some time, and the National Policy Institute is not a new organization. There is no indication that there is any relationship between Mr. Trump and Mr. Spencer or NPI. Still, Mr. Spencer, NPI, and other white nationalists clearly feel differently emboldened since Mr. Trumps election. At their national conference earlier this week, NPI members were heard chanting “Hail Trump.”
I could go on (and on and on) about the troubling signs that indicate the ways this administration is positioning itself to further the goals of both the white nationalist movement, and male supremacy. That content, however is already covered. What I think is equally as pressing is how we, as white men can and must stand in solidarity with women of all colors, black and brown men, GLBTQ people, and ultimately with ourselves; and push in a collective way against the attitudes being espoused and the policies that are undoubtedly coming. It does no good for us to be individually outraged!
A Call to Action
So long as we (as white men) offer no significant opposition, Donald Trump speaks and acts for us. As offensive as I personally/politically find his actions, I also directly benefit from what’s he’s saying and proposing. So long as we are silent as other white men promote the ideas that we, as white men, are entitled to certain positions. This is a call for us as white men of conscious to not only work in concert and accountability with all women and with black and brown men, but that we also join hands and in one consistent and sustained voice to counter every effort from the Trump Administration to further the white nationalist, male supremacist agenda.
For most of us, separating our whiteness from our manhood is a difficult if not impossible task. Who I am and how I express myself as a man if very much informed by how I see and am understood as a white person. And visa versa. If I can borrow from Kimberle Crenshaw’s masterful work, I exist at the intersections of my whiteness and my manhood (as well as multiple other identities) and the intersections of white and male privilege. Part of how oppression works is to create structures that constantly, relentlessly remind people who are oppressed that they are, in fact, existing in a system of oppression and dominance.
Part of privilege is being able to ignore that there are systems that hold people down – and which give me a leg up. I don’t have to notice that I’m driving while white; I don’t have to pay attention to the conversations I’m not having with my white son about how to interact with the police in a way that keeps him safe; I don’t have to recognize the ways that women constantly adjust their lives to the threat of rape and harassment.
Therefore, a part of this call to action is to recognize, and label the ways that white, male, and whitemale privilege manifest and are expressed. When we’ve been in a position of superiority and dominance, equality feels like a step down. Privileges often feel like and are experienced as a right. It feels like a right to be able to walk 3 blocks to the corner Qdoba for a midnight burrito, or to take my shirt off in public in the middle of August in Kentucky or to know that I will be listened to when I speak in a public meeting. It feels like a right to be able to walk into any space and know that feel welcomed and accepted. So when I walk into a space and don’t feel immediately welcomed or accepted, it feels like a slight.
But how many people (all women, black and brown people, GLBT folks, people who happened to be disabled, etc.) experience on a routine basis walking into spaces where they aren’t welcomed or accepted?!? We (white men) do not have a right to be accepted (or at least, we don’t have any more right than any other human being on the planet). Walking into a space and being welcomed and accepted is a privilege. I do not mean that solely as a privilege in response to systems of oppression and privilege, but also as a real truth. Whenever we are accepted and welcomed in a setting, it is a privilege!
When we as white men are able to openly and honestly able to experience and express gratitude that other people have the graciousness to welcome and accept us into their meetings, rooms, houses, places of worship, businesses, etc, we begin unpacking and countering white male privilege.
In my Next blog, I’ll go into more details about more ways that we as white men can work to counter the growing white nationalism and male supremacy. Two resources I’d like to share with you are the North American Men Engage Network (NAMEN) http://namen.wildapricot.org/ and Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) http://www.showingupforracialjustice.org/.
Both of these organizations, in different ways, support the work of men (NAMEN) and white people (SURJ) to work towards gender and racial justice. I encourage you to reach out to them.
© 2016 Rus Ervin Funk